Fantasy and Reality

Joe Katzman at Winds Of Change has an interesting discussion of the role of fantasy and narcisism in modern protest culture. At one point he examines Lee Harris’s article about his protest experience during the Vietnam war era. The main idea is that just as some anti-war activists were operating (and happily so!) in the realm of fantasy, so are a variety of activists today, ranging from al Qaeda terrorists to WTO protestors to the Religious Right in America.

The traditional image of the activist has been as someone who sees the Big Picture. He or she sees the world more clearly than others and wants to make a difference – for the good. The ones they protest against are either evil (to some degree) or mindless dupes of the evil ones. The activist’s metanarrative allows them to see the evils nes, the dupes, and even themselves for what they are: participants in a larger story.

But in postmodernity we’re not supposed to believe in metanarratives anymore. We’re supposed to avoid them as tools of the powerful would-be oppressors. Instead, we are to cheer the little stories here and there and work to make no sense of how they all fit together, i.e., to avoid fitting all the little subplots (our lives) into any overarching plot. Instead, I will live my story – or at most our story, where “our” is a few good buddies. We’re incredulous toward any greater scheme of meaning, so we’ll just live ourselves and try to make the most of it.

If the only alternative is modernity’s sort of powerful metanarrative, a story so often of coercion and violence (though often authorized by “responsible parties” in recognized nation states and bureaucratic structures), then maybe the fantasy world of my little story is a decent alternative. As a Christian, I’d like ot think there are other options.

In the story of Jesus – or, more accurately, the story of God and creation that reaches its climax in Jesus – I see a metanarrative that enables me to see my life as counting for something (in the big picture – whta can be bigger than creation andeternity?) while at the same time delivering me from the necessity of enforcing that story on others? Needless to say, plenty of participants in the story (Christians) have seen fit to enforce it on others. That’s what Constantinianism is about. But once we stoop to enforcing the story (call it “righteousness” or the like if you want) on others, we have departed from that story. The climax of our story is the self-giving of the most powerful person, a self-giving that led to humiliating suffering and death. Jesus calls us to take up our crosses, not so that we may crucify the recalcitrant, but so that we too may suffer with him.

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